Archive for Science Fiction

Booktalk: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here cover

So, how many of you are getting tired of hearing about Patrick Ness?  Yeah, me neither.  I love his books to pieces, as evidenced by the booktalks I’ve already writtten about his earlier books A Monster Calls and More Than This.  But with The Rest of Us Just Live Here, he writes a new kind of story altogether, a story about ridiculous but awesome YA novels and what must be going on behind the scenes.

This was a challenging story to booktalk, and I probably would share this with classes that I feel have a longer attention span because they’ll need to absorb the premise of the book in order to appreciate the payoff.  That being said, I would definitely recommend this book to teen audiences as well as adults.  It’s a great story overall, but it will be especially appreciated by fans of YA lit in all its ridiculousness / awesomeness.


Many of you have probably read young adult novels where an ordinary teenager becomes the hero of the story.  It starts out as the story of an ordinary teenager who lives in an ordinary town, but then something EXTRAORDINARY happens.  Maybe there’s an alien invasion.  Maybe people start turning into vampires or zombies.  Maybe the ancient gods are having a battle that affects modern-day earth.  But this ordinary teenager somehow manages to save the day.  Maybe it’s because he’s really smart.  Maybe it’s because her hobby was studying vampires, and that made her extra-prepared for vampire attacks.  Maybe it’s because he’s related to those ancient gods, or because he’s an alien himself.  For whatever reason, this ordinary teenager in an ordinary town turns out to be The Chosen One and manages to save the day.

Now, if you want to read a book about a teenager who turns out to be The Chosen One and saves the day, you go right ahead.  But THIS is not that book.

So far, we’ve taken our camera and zoomed in on this one kid who’s heroically fighting against the vampires … or gods, or aliens, or whatever.  But now let’s take that camera and zoom out until we can see the whole town.  What’s everyone else doing?  How are the rest of the people in the town reacting to what’s going on?  Do they even KNOW what’s going on?  Are they getting bitten by vampires, or blasted by ray guns, or are they just trying to go on with their ordinary lives while this life-or-death battle takes place just a few blocks away?

If you and your friends are ordinary teenagers in an ordinary town where disaster strikes but none of you are The Chosen One, what happens to you?  Can your life also be important even if you’re not the hero?  This book tells THAT story!

Booktalk: Nil by Lynne Matson

Nil cover

Nil by Lynne Matson is a suspenseful book that blends adventure, romance, and the challenge of survival.  I’m a big fan of books that open with someone being dropped into a strange environment and being forced to adapt to this strange new place and learn its rules in order to survive.  That’s why I would recommend this book to any readers who enjoyed House of Stairs by William Sleator or The Maze Runner by James Dashner.


Charley went to Target to return a couple of skirts she’d bought the day before.  She parked her car in the lot, got out, and started walking towards the store.  But then she suddenly saw the air start shimmering in front of her.  It was like a wall of wavy glass, and that shimmering wall was moving towards her. Suddenly Charley felt a blinding, burning heat all over her body.  She tried to scream, but it was so hot that she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.  Within seconds, she felt hot, and then she felt cold, and then she felt nothing.

Charley woke up somewhere, but she had no idea where she was.  She was lying in a huge field that was filled with red rocks as far as she could see.  The sun was shining down overhead, strong and hot.  Target was gone, the parking lot was gone, her car was gone … and her clothes were gone.  Charley was naked and alone, and she had no idea where she was or how she got there.

Charley is going to learn that she’s on an island called Nil, and it’s a place that doesn’t appear on normal maps.  She’s going to learn that there’s food and water on the island, so she’s not going to die … at least, not right away.  She’s going to learn that she’s not alone on the island, but that being around other people won’t always mean she’s safe.  She’s also going to learn that there are rules on this island, and one of those rules is that she has 365 days to escape, or else she’ll die.

The clock has already started ticking … but Charley just can’t hear it yet.

Booktalk: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This cover

More than This by Patrick Ness is a profound book that is difficult to categorize, in part because the reader doesn’t fully understand this world until it unfolds.  And even by the end of the story … well, let’s just say this book raises more questions than it answers.  It’s a richly rewarding story, and one that will have a strong impact on teens, especially on curious teens who enjoy taking their minds in new directions.


Seth was dead, and then he was alive again.  The last thing he remembered was swimming in the ocean.  He remembered the pull of the undertow and how he was fighting against the waves, and that no matter how hard he tried to swim away from the rocks, he couldn’t.  He remembered the waves dashing him against the rocks.  He remembered the sound of his shoulder blade snapping in two, so loud that he could even hear it underwater.  He remembered drowning  … and then he remembered waking up here.  Wherever “here” is.

Seth doesn’t know if he’s dead, or alive, or dreaming.  He doesn’t know if he’s in heaven, or hell, or somewhere in between.  All he knows is is that he woke up in front of a house that looks vaguely familiar.  He doesn’t know exactly where he is, but when he steps inside the house it feels like he’s been here before, a very long time ago.  He also knows that wherever he is, he’s completely alone.  He listens carefully, but he can’t hear the sound of any people, or animals, or birds, or even insects.  This world is completely silent.

Seth doesn’t know what kind of place this is, or why it feels familiar, or what happened to everybody else.  He doesn’t have the answers to any of these questions … YET.

Booktalk: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl cover

I’d never read Zita the Spacegirl before this week, but I’ve been hearing good things about it for a while.  I was trying to familiarize myself with the books on our summer reading lists, and Zita was an easy choice for me!  It’s a graphic novel, it’s a quick read, and it reminds me both of The Wizard of Oz and Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novel series.  Check out Ben Hatke’s website for more information about Zita the Spacegirl as well as his other books.


Joseph told her not to push the red button.  The button was part of a device that they found inside a meteor which had fallen from outer space and landed in a field.  Joseph told her not to push the red button, but Zita was feeling curious, and she didn’t think it would do any harm.  So she pushed that red button, and after a moment a bright light suddenly appeared before them.  But this wasn’t exactly a light — it was really more of a doorway.  And through that doorway came something that Zita and Joseph had never seen before.  They couldn’t even see the whole creature.  All they could see were its long dark tentacles … just before those tentacles grabbed Joseph and pulled him through to the other side.

Joseph has been pulled into another world, a place filled with creatures more strange and astounding than he or Zita could ever have imagined.  When Zita follows Joseph into that world, she will meet many of these creatures, and she’ll have to try to figure out which ones she can trust.  She’ll have to figure out who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s somewhere in between.  She’ll also have to figure out who can help her find and rescue Joseph, and who can help both of them get back home to planet Earth.

Booktalk: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

City of Ember cover

I was an enormous fan of The City of Ember when it first came out.  This would be a great book to recommend to older children and younger teens who are looking for dystopian fiction books but don’t want a dystopian romance.  You can visit Jeanne DuPrau’s website to learn more about the entire Ember series.


Lina and Doon have lived all their lives in the city of Ember, just like their parents and their grandparents before them.  Now that they’re twelve years old, it’s time for them to leave school and start working.  But when they go to select their assignments, they’re both disappointed.  Lina picks the job of Pipeworks Laborer, which means working deep underground.  Doon picks the job of Messenger, which involves running all over the city.  Because each of them hates the jobs they picked, they decide to switch jobs instead.  Lina is happy because she always wanted to be a messenger.  Doon is happy, too, but for a different reason.  He doesn’t really want to work with pipes every day, but it’s in the Pipeworks that the city generator is located.  Doon has never seen the generator before, but he thinks that if he can see it, maybe he can fix it.

You see, the city has been running well for many years, but recently the power has been failing more and more, for longer periods of time.  And when the power goes out, the lights go out.  And when the lights go out, the entire city is plunged into total darkness.   Because in the city of Ember, it’s always night, and there are no moon or stars.  On top of this, Ember has other problems, too.  The storehouses that used to be filled with all kinds of food and countless light bulbs are almost empty.  Stores that used to be open every day are now open only one or two days a week, with hardly anything left on the shelves.

Lina and Doon are each going to discover clues about the history of Ember.  But it’s only if they put those clues together and use everything they’ve ever learned that they’ll have any chance of saving their city before it’s plunged into darkness forever.

Booktalk: Slated by Teri Terry

Slated UK coverSlated cover

[Here are the UK and US covers, respectively.  I like them both, but I have to give the coolness edge to the UK edition.  I mean, the city is cool and all, but do we NEED to see it?]

So … remember how I recently devoted an entire episode to a few of my favorite dystopias?   Well, shortly after I finished that episode I read this book, and Slated definitely deserves to have a place on any “best dystopian fiction” lists!  Check out Teri Terry’s website to learn more about the Slated trilogy: Slated (out now in hc & pb), Fractured (out this month in the US), and Shattered (out in March 2014 in the UK and May 2014 in the US).


Kyla is sixteen years old, but she’s only been awake for the last nine months.  Before that she was Slated — her mind was wiped clean of everything she’d ever done, everyone she ever knew, every thought she’d ever had.  All gone.

Kyla knows very little about herself.  She knows that she was a criminal, and that’s why her mind was wiped clean.  Being Slated was supposed to be the more humane alternative to jail or to the death penalty.  Kyla knows that she has to hold on to happy thoughts, because if she gets too sad or too stressed out she could get in trouble or she could even die.  That’s because all the people who’ve been Slated have to wear a special device called a Levo on their wrists as part of their punishment.  The Levo monitors their moods — if the number drops too low it will set off alarms, and if the number drops even lower the people wearing them can lose consciousness or even die.

Kyla is one of thousands of people who’ve been Slated.  But there’s something about her that’s different from the rest of them.  She keeps having nightmares about running, about trying to escape something that she can’t see.  As time goes on she starts learning more about the person she used to be — she discovers that she can draw, she can run, she can drive, and she can fight.

Kyla is going to learn that when her mind was wiped clean, the process didn’t go exactly as expected.

A Few of My Favorite Dystopias

City of Ember coverShip Breaker cover5th Wave Cover

I’ve been meaning to do a dystopian episode for a while now, and the time when students are going back to school seemed as good a time as any to share books in a genre that has exploded in popularity over the last few years.  I’ve already booktalked several of the books that I mentioned in this episode; if you’d like to hear and read my booktalks of dystopian titles please click on the “dystopian” category on this page or just go here to check them out.

Here are the titles of dystopian fiction books that I mentioned in this episode:

1984 by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
Matched by Ally Condie
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
XVI by Julia Karr
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Ship Breaker by Paolo Baciagalupi
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia ed. by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Beta by Rachel Cohn
The Program by Suzanne Young
Crewel by Gennifer Albin
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Booktalk: Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

To answer your first question, no, this episode is not about the tasty (???) marshmallow Easter candy, although I do admit that the timing is entertaining!

Today we’re revisiting the weird and fabulous world of Scott Westerfeld, previously seen in last year’s episode where I booktalked his phenomenal science fiction novel UgliesPeeps takes the classic idea of vampires and gives it a sci-fi twist by using the idea of the condition being spread through parasite infections.  And for readers who enjoy Peeps, the story that begins in this book continues in the novel The Last Days.


My name is Cal, and I’m trying to find my ex-girlfriend Sarah.  Now don’t get me wrong; the reason I’m doing it is because she’s no longer entirely human … and I’m the one who made her that way.

It turns out that I’m a carrier of a parasite that’s been infecting people for thousands of years.  I’m telling you; I didn’t know I had infected her until it was too late.  I didn’t even know that I was sick.  But I did notice that my senses of taste and smell and eyesight were more powerful than before.  I did notice that I was stronger than before.  I did notice that it was almost impossible to sleep at night.  And I did notice an increased desire for red meat.  But because I’m a carrier, I can still live like a normal human being.  Well … MOSTLY normal.

But for the rest of the people who are infected by this parasite (like my ex-girlfriends, for example), it changes them in even more ways.  It makes them lose a lot of weight.  It makes their eyes huge.  It makes them hate the sunlight.  It makes them angry.  It makes them crazy.  And it makes them kill people.  A thousand years ago, or even a hundred years ago, we would have called them vampires.  But now we know better.  Now we call them parasite positives, or peeps for short.

When I find Sarah and the Night Watch team takes her away, that’ll be one less peep around to spread this parasite to other people.  But while Sarah is the last ex-girlfriend I need to track down, I still have one more big job to do.

I still have to find the person who infected ME.

Booktalk: The Making of a Graphic Novel by Prentis Rollins

Many times when I pick nonfiction books to share with classes, I’m picking topics that interest me, like science, history, and food.  But when I’m talking about instructional books, it’s easier for me to talk about topics that are more interesting to my teens than they are to me.  And even if I am interested, I know that I don’t have enough skill to make jewelry, knit and crochet cool accessories and adorable creatures, or write and draw a graphic novel.  The Making of a Graphic Novel is a great book to share with classes because it will appeal to aspiring writers and artists, as well as everyone who wants to learn more about the universe in which human beings can no longer sleep.  Most people know Prentis Rollins because of his artwork, but The Resonator story proves that he has great writing skills, as well.


After the wars and after the famines, humans stopped sleeping.  No one knew how or why it happened.  Maybe people were genetically altered by the Probe Corporation.  Maybe it was just the next step in man’s evolution.  But whatever the reason, humans can no longer sleep on their own.  They either need drugs … or they need a resonator.  But resonators are illegal.  In fact, possessing, transporting, or using a resonator is punishable by death.  When Bronsen, a uranium miner, goes to a sleep merchant, he is going to sleep for the first time since he was three years old.  Bronsen knows that asking for a resonator is is both illegal and dangerous.  What he doesn’t know is that the resonator is a living, breathing thing.  He also doesn’t know that the resonator will allow him to dream for the very first time … and that this dream will change his life.

This half of the book contains the graphic novel The Resonator.  After you finish it, flip the book over to read the other half, called The Making of a Graphic Novel.  This half of the book will take you through the entire process of putting a graphic novel together.  From writing the story to pencilling, inking, and lettering, Prentis Rollins will guide you through every step of the way.  If you like graphic novels and want to make your own someday, this one-of-a-kind book is for you.

Booktalk: After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

First, I was interested in reading After because it combines two of my favorite things: short stories and dystopias.  Then when I saw that it was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, I was even more excited to read it because they have an excellent track record with fantasy and science fiction anthologies.  As with most anthologies, some stories are better than others so the quality varies as you go through the book, but I definitely found more hits than misses here.  Oh, and as a side note, this book is officially for ages “12 and up,” but I think that some of the stories are above most middle school students’ comprehension so I would primarily recommend this collection for high school students or adults.

As I was trying to come up with ideas for how to booktalk this book, I was torn between talking about the book as a whole and focusing on one particular story.  Once in a while, I’ll find one story in an anthology that I think will be able to sell the book to a wide audience, like in my booktalk for Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.  But even though I found several stories in this anthology that could definitely merit their own booktalks, I decided that I’d rather highlight the large variety of stories in this collection so that I would be more likely to suggest a premise that might intrigue someone in my audience.  And the added benefit of this booktalk?  If I forget one of the sentences, THAT’S OKAY.  And if I list the premises out of order, THAT’S OKAY, TOO.


How will society fall apart?

Will there be war?  Will the crime rate soar out of control?  Will ocean levels rise, flooding the world’s cities?  Will an illness or a plague destroy the population?  Will aliens from outer space attack the earth?  Will people spread mutations that turn them into zombies or vampires?  Will something created in a lab go horribly wrong and start destroying the world?  Will the earth become so toxic that everyone will have to leave the planet?  Will a mysterious event break the world into millions of pieces?

And then … after society falls apart … what happens next?